Eavesdrop on 10 film school dorm rooms and you’ll overhear eight guys saying “dude, we should write and direct a film starring us as ourselves.” (The ninth room was film bros debating whether Nolan or Tarantino was better, and the 10th room belonged to a girl who dropped out because of the guys next door). Filmmakers literally making their work about themselves can be self-aggrandizing, but buddy comedy The Climb — written by Michael Covino and Kyle Marvin, directed by Michael Covino, and starring Michael Covino and Kyle Marvin as Mike and Kyle—is self-disparaging to the point of hilarity. It’s healthy to laugh at yourself, and it feels even better to watch other people laugh at themselves.

Mike and Kyle immediately paint themselves as targets by attempting a herculean task on camera: biking uphill. Mike, the more experienced biker, is a safe distance ahead of Kyle, and he uses the opportunity to confess that he slept with Kyle’s fiancée. Everything goes downhill (figuratively) and their friendship fractures on the spot. And it’s funny! Their fight is a perfect synthesis of physical farce—angry man can’t catch up to his traitorous but fit friend—and verbal wit, courtesy of acerbic writing and immaculate comedic timing. Covino and Marvin establish themselves as virtuosos as quickly as they establish themselves as buffoons.

The evidence is in the camerawork too: the bike hike scene is all one tracking shot, the camera looking back on the bikers as it too clips uphill, the two sometimes failing to catch up. The constant pullback of the camera—threatening to turn Mike and Kyle into dots on the horizon if they can’t keep up the pace—makes the scene an uphill battle visually, just like the new conflict in Mike and Kyle’s friendship is an uphill battle thematically, just like the bike ride is an uphill battle literally. In its first scene, The Climb is already laugh-out-loud funny, visually interesting, and cinematically cohesive in a way that bolsters the comedy and deepens the conflict. It’s something of a little miracle, especially for two guys still coming up in the industry.

To be fair, it is their second go at the scene: The Climb is based on Covino and Marvin’s short film of the same name, and that short film became the basis of the first scene of the feature. The rest of The Climb is new territory for the duo, and while it never stops being funny and enjoyable, it never matches the subtle alchemy of the opening scene. The film doesn’t follow Mike and Kyle’s friendship so much as it checks in on it, dipping into pivotal moments of their lives for a few minutes at a time and then skipping forward, capturing each episode in long tracking shots. This style of cinematography, applied to every scene ostensibly because it worked the first time, does well to symbolize the pace of the modern manchild—if the world around them weren’t moving forward, these men never would—but it doesn’t always feel like it was implemented with consideration. It can be hard to settle in with the characters when the cinematography is begging for attention.

The inability to “settle in” is the screenplay’s main problem as well, and it again stems from the episodic structure. The jumps in time work comedically—the transitions between on-agains and off-agains in Mike and Kyle’s friendship are amusingly abrupt out of context—but the events we miss go sorely unfelt. The staggered timetable breaks up the character development and just gives us the character results: the breakups, the reunions, the times with all the alcohol. These results feel honest and sincere, seeing as the lead roles are familiar to the actors—but without more incremental buildup that lets us know Mike and Kyle beyond their surface descriptors, they don’t feel grounded and authentic. The Climb bubbles with sentiment, but its substance evaporates, and its emotional cruxes need substance. The emotional forces that bring the oxymoron of ‘male bonding’ to life remain a mystery to anyone but Mike and Kyle.

Still, a bromance with sharp dialogue and fascinating cinematography is something to celebrate. It’s just a little on the nose that The Climb is more successful at getting us to laugh at male friendship than wringing a compelling story out of it, especially during a year when comedies like Eurovision remind us that you still craft convincing emotional beats while dabbling in the heights of silliness.

★★★½ (3.5/5)